District office hosts party for foreign workersIt may not have been the wedding the two brides had in mind since childhood with white satin gowns and an abundance of flowers.
The wedding dresses were Korea’s traditional hanbok and cheap balloons took the place of flowers, but it was a wedding nonetheless.
On a cold Sunday afternoon, Kim Dong-min and his wife Duong Thi Kim Yen from Mongolia and Kim Gyu-dal and Manawan Rattana from Thailand also wed in front of 200 or so witnesses, including their families and friends, at the Seongdong district office.
The wedding was a highlight of the annual year-end party for foreign immigrants in Seongdong, organized by the district office.
It was the first time that a joint marriage ceremony between Koreans and foreigners were part of the annual event, which is in its ninth year.
Photojournalists from Korean news agencies snapped pictures as the husbands planted quick kisses on the cheeks of their new brides, who giggled happily.
The couples, according to the district office, had been living together for nearly a decade but have never had enough money to afford a wedding.
“The reason we have included the wedding in this year’s event is because there have been many Korean-foreigner couples who never had the opportunity to hold a wedding ceremony because many are poor,” said Suh Kang-seok, vice head of the district office.
Kim Dong-min and his wife have a 4-year-old son, Jin-seop, and a 2-year-old daughter, Jin-kyeong.
The mother of two never stopped smiling during the day, especially when a group of Mongolian children including her son sang a Korean song to celebrate the union.
Mr. Suh said that many foreign workers have been living in Korea for more than four years. “Some have been living in this country for nearly a decade,” he said. “We called up various Korean-foreigner couples who have been living together for nearly 10 years in our district, and selected two couples, who really wanted to hold a joint wedding,” he said.
“Seongdong district is one of the few local governments in Korea that tries to establish an environment that is free of any racial discrimination.”
A man who wished only to be called Shaiful agreed. “I have been living in Korea for five years and every year I have attended the annual event,” he said. “The reason many foreigners including those living as far away as Bucheon and Gimpo come to the annual event is because it is free of discrimination and has no religious ties.”
Mr. Shaiful said religious groups hold similar events but the district office had no hidden agenda so people could really enjoy the day.
The Bangladeshi man volunteers to teach computer skills to other foreigners at the district office.
“People in this room pretty much know each other because some teach and some learn computers and Korean language,” he said.
“My son attends a jiguchon class provided by the district office,” said Sod Biled, a Mongolian who is currently studying social welfare at Soongsil University.
The jiguchon, or “global class,” is a child education program run by the district office’s Seongdong Migrant Workers’ Center, to help the children of foreign workers in Korea to adapt to life here. The Mongolian students who sang at the wedding were students of the class.
Other numbers provided for the entertainment of the foreign workers included a performance of traditional Bangladeshi music played on drums and an accordion.
There was also a mixture of dance and taekwondo moves by 20 Korean elementary students and a tango by two Korean elementary students who study at a piano hagwon in the district.
The most popular performance was a flashy dance by four Korean cheerleaders in miniskirts.
Although they came from such countries as Vietnam, Thailand, Mongolia and Bangladesh the people at the event seemed united. The most common language spoken among the people of different nationalities was Korean.
Korean volunteers also joined in the party.
“We have been coming here every year since we graduated from school two years ago and yet it brings new enjoyment each year,” said Kim Soo-jin, a volunteer who is a dental hygiene counselor and was attending with her co-workers, Yoon Seo-young and Shin Jeong-mi. “We believe such events should spread around the country,” Ms. Kim added.
“Although this annual year-end party for foreign workers in Korea has been held for the last nine years, it has received an official budget only since 2002,” said Choi Hye-sook, an employee of the district office. “Previously it was a less formal event.”
Mr. Shaiful said that previous parties were attended by a lot more people, however.
“As you can see the crowd that turned out today is less than the 400 the district office had expected,” Mr. Shaiful said.
“This is because in recent years the Korean government’s crackdown on illegal aliens in this country has tightened and they go after such foreigners even on Sundays,” Mr. Shaiful said.
“Recently immigration officials even came to the Seongdong district office after receiving a anonymous call,” Mr. Shaiful said. “Luckily there were no illegal aliens that day.”
by Lee Ho-jeong
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